Friday, November 21, 2008

40 Man up to 37 Men

Extra Baggs reports that the Giants added four players to their 40-man roster, in order to hold onto them, else they could have been drafted in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft:
  • Jesse English, LHP
  • Joey Martinez, RHP
  • Henry Sosa, RHP
  • Waldis Joaquin, RHP
The Giants roster is now at 37.  They might take a flier on a Rule 5 Draftee for one spot and thus it appears that they are hoping to sign two more free agents, though if they go to three, they could drop someone off the 40 man and expose them to waivers, like they did with Brian Burres and Jon Coutlangus a few years back.

Jesse English was drafted the same year Matt Cain was drafted and actually pitched better but injuries held him back, and, according to Baggarly, "a lack of commitment."  That usually do in people, but he apparently has matured since then.   He had a very nice season in San Jose this year, ranking fourth in the league with a 3.19 ERA, and is still only 24.   A lefty with a fastball is always a good thing (that's why they got Bumgarner).

Joey Martinez had a nice season in Connecticut, but it's pretty easy to have a good season there with that home park.  Still, he did win the ERA title, so that's nothing to sneeze at either.  Nothing against him, but pitchers like him without a strong fastball, it is always wait and see at every level up the system, that's just the way it is, as you never know when the hitters figure them out.   Good luck to him in Fresno.

Henry Sosa flew high in 2007 but injuries derailed his 2008.  However, guys with fastballs like him always get another chance to show he can still do it.

Waldis Joaquin appears to have recovered nicely from Tommy John Surgery.  He could be a power arm out of the bullpen, and apparently has a plus slider as well.  He was considered top of rotation material before his surgery, so if he can come back all the way, he could be set-up or even closer material.




Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will the Giants Take a Bath with Sabathia?

A discussion of the Giants pursuing Sabathia broke out in the comment section for the post on Lincecum's long-term contract. A couple of good sources of info on this is El Lefty Malo and, of course, Extra Baggs. I'll try to capture most of the good points from what I've written there.

Yes! We're In the Money

This is exciting news if the Giants are serious about pursuing Sabathia. This could be a sign of what Neukom announced as his "give me a winning strategy, I'll figure out the money" strategy. I have been hoping that he dips into his rolodex of hi-tech multimillionaires who might want to become part owners of the Giants and fund additional player acquisitions.

The key is to add new investors who can help pay for additional players. That is the model that got the D-backs their World Series championship, that is the model that brings them back to competitiveness after nearly going bankrupt with their original financing plan (they basically bought their title). I want someone to buy the Giants a title.

In addition, as noted in Extra Baggs, the Giants have money from a new Comcast contract that has not been spent yet. Also, I believe that they also own a portion of the sports network that broadcasts their games, so that gives them either an asset to sell or an asset to borrow against if necessary. All these would add money into the player payroll budget.

Trading to Save Money

There is also the possibility that Sabean could help pay for some of the additional salary by trading off either Winn or Rowand (whose name has floated in rumors). I still think Rowand was a good acquisition, as long as he is healthy. There's no way a hitter goes from slugging 900+ OPS for two months then become stone cold the rest of the season without an injury involved. Plus, given his poor play overall and larger contract, the Giants would get a lot less for Rowand than we would if we traded Winn.

It's like I had noted way back in 2003, when trying to get the Giants interested in signing Vlad: do the Giants go for quality, go for the gusto, or do they go safe and mediocre. Keeping Winn and trading Rowand would be going safe and mediocre. Winn is what he is, a nice steady player; Rowand at his best can be a plus hitter and defender. Go for the ring!

No Trading of Lincecum or Cain

However, if the plan is to sign Sabathia and then trade off Lincecum or Cain to obtain a hitter, then I am not for this move. Lincecum and Cain should be our core and while I don't believe that Sabean is looking to trading either, many fans have actively talked about trading Cain. There is no way the Giants should trade Cain, think of how good the rotation would be after signing Sabathia.

Removing the #5 starters and adding Sabathia's 2007 stats results in a team ERA of 3.82 for the Giants (obviously better if you use his 2008 stats). Add on about 0.2 for unearned runs brings us to 4.0 runs per game. The team scored 4.0 runs per game in Aug/Sept and adding Furcal (as other rumors note) would push us above that. That's an above .500 team.

It could also lead the Giants to move Bumgarner and Alderson slowly up the system, and by the time they are ready to join the team, the team could have moved both Sanchez and Zito (or even Sabathia) by then, opening two spots for a rotation of Sabathia, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Alderson.

For example, Bumgarner moving up one level per year would mean reaching the majors in 2011-2, when Zito only has 2-3 years on his contract, which would be much easier to move at that point.

I think the Giants realize what they got in Lincecum and Cain PLUS realize that many fans have bonded with the two as Giants players, that they are fan favorites, and thus if they are serious about signing Sabathia, then they are going for creating a monster starting rotation and not, as some fans had speculated, to enable trading of a starting pitcher.

How Much?

That is the $$$ question. One thing that caught my attention was CC’s interest in getting more than Santana annually, who got $22.9M per. CC will only be 28 next season. Thus, a shorter contract but higher annual could work: 5 years plus option, maybe two, vesting based on IP over the previous 3 years, at say $26M would be $130M plus maybe a $8M buyout for a total of $138M, which would be larger than Santana's deal. He would still be only 32 his last season with us, with options for 33 and 34.

A fear of mine is also that signing Sabathia would make the Giants incapable of signing Matt Cain and/or Tim Lincecum to long term deals beyond arbitration. If that is the case, then I am not for signing Sabathia. The Giants long-term future right now revolves around Lincecum and Cain and I would protect that zealously.

How it Should Work

I think the only way this would work is to NOT trade any of the pitchers this off-season but do trade either Winn or Rowand. I still say Lincecum and Cain are untouchable. With a rotation of Sabathia, Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez, when they are all on the top of their game, we will be winning a lot of 3-2, 4-3 games, even with our offense, which was averaging 4.0 runs at year end. 2009 should still be a rebuilding year even with Sabathia, unless the young guys come through.

The hope then for 2009 is that we learn which young guys are keepers/contributors for 2010 and beyond. In particular, hopefully Sanchez can put together a full season of his roughly first half of 2008 when he was as dominating as Lincecum or Cain, and that would be a trading chip that would get us the middle of lineup hitter we need after the 2009 season ends. Sanchez should have three years of arbitration control, or even better maybe the Giants could even sign him now to a $9M contract to cover the next 4 seasons, to make him low cost too. Think something like the Volquez trade.

In addition, losing Molina, Roberts, Winn off the roster would open up more cash for signing another veteran hitter next off-season to go with this hitter we get for Sanchez. That would be another piece to the puzzle, plus hopefully other prospects would have come to the fore in 2009. Furthermore, Posey should be ready in the 2010-11 timeframe, as well as Villalona in the 2011-12 timeframe.

Playoff Success

With a rotation of Sabathia, Lincecum, Cain, Zito, and Sanchez (then Alderson, then Bumgarner), our rotation would be a juggernaut for the next 5-8 seasons, per my hypothesis that having a dominating rotation is the way to playoff success (my examples being Unit/Schilling for D-backs, Koufax/Drysdale for Dodgers).

Or for an olden day example applicable for the Giants, there was Christy Mathewson single-handedly winning the Giants the 1905 World Series. While those days of single pitcher taking over are over, if we can have two aces, that could duplicate it. We should have it with Lincecum and Cain.

Adding a third ace in Sabathia would push that up exponentially, I believe. And if Sanchez can pitch like an ace over a full season, the more the merrier for us in the playoffs. Lastly, if Zito has finally figured it out - and based on how his ability to strike out batters improved greatly at the end of the 2008 season, he has - then we could have a rotation full of very good to great pitchers, each and every time they take the ball.

Offense is Not the Only Way to Improve Winning

People cry about offense, but it goes both ways. If we have a rotation which can keep the opposition scoring under 4.0 runs per game (ERA without #5 in 2008 was 4.00 basically; with Sabathia's 2007, around 3.82 ERA), then our offense in 2008, even with all the experimentation, scored 4.0 runs per game and that's over .500 right there.

Our offense should be even better in 2009 because Burriss or SS FA would beat Bocock/Vizquel, our 1B couldn't get worse, OF should be same or better if Rowand hits like he can, and Sandoval could not be worse than Castillo at 3B, and should be better. Plus, imagine how well Lewis could play with a healthy bunion!

And as I noted here in my post on Affeldt, Lincecum and Cain probably lost at least 10 wins that they had left to the bullpen to save. Saving just 6 of those 10 lost wins would bring us close to .500 right there, with 78 wins. Thus, the team was very close to .500 in 2008, just by tweaking the bullpen. So, even without Sabathia, the team is already around .500 right now, with the addition of Affeldt, Romo, and Hinshaw in the bullpen, perhaps slightly above, depending on how well Sandoval and Burriss, and perhaps Frandsen (with a dark horse of Ishikawa and Schierholtz), produces for us in the lineup.

In all, given the lack of plus hitters likely to join us, getting Sabathia would still improve the team's RA greatly and people forget that the two ways to win is to either improve RS or to reduce RA. Getting CC would reduce RA significantly.

As I noted, 2009 is a transition year still, getting CC won't help us win right now, at least not the division, but by the end of the season, we should have a better idea what our other young prospects are capable of and whether they are a part of the team going forward plus others would have played well enough that we could trade them away to get a hitter who could bat in the middle for us, the Padres got Kouzmanov from the Indians, and the Rangers got Hamilton from the Reds, we should be able to get someone similar if Sanchez can pitch well. Plus money should be freed up enough to get a free agent hitter. And hopefully Sandoval or another prospect can show that they can be a long-term power source in the middle of the lineup for the future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lincecum Long-Term Contract

I am writing this because some readers here will probably miss this in the comments.  Roger had a great comment about my guess-timate on what Lincecum could get, which is that it would not make sense given the Ryan Howard arbitration win.  And I totally agree, I did not know about his historic arbitration win.  

I Was Wrong in Guess on Lincecum's Long-term Contract Size; Phillies Was Wrong Too

And reading up on that win (in particular, an article from ESPN, which is here), I would venture that the Phillies should have fired whoever did that blunder, as it was probably a $2.5M mistake that costed the rest of the MLB teams as now that is the new precedence.

If this is not another horrific example of why the arbitration system sucks, I don't know what is.

The arbitration win was for $10M for Howard versus the $7M offer by the team, and the arbitrator ignored (rightly) the arguments the Phillies gave that justified that offer and probably trumped them by noting that Miguel Cabrera, just the year before, got $7.4M in arbitration.   The ESPN author, Jayson Stark, noted a source who said that had the Phillies offered more, then the arbitrator might have gone with their number, but they could not see giving Howard less than what Cabrera got the year before, which the Phillies arbitration expert should have known (and which, if I'm right, is ironic, because the Phillies gave that expert, who I believe is Amaro Jr., a promotion to GM just after the World Series win). 

Giants Screwed by Phillies Blunder

Now that's water under the bridge (or spilt milk) for the rest of the MLB to work against.  And that is the mess we are left with as Giants fans.

Sidenote, this is kind of like how the Giants (i.e. Colletti) screwed up the Pierzynski arbitration offer.  Even I knew that the going expected "price" would be at least $2.5-3.0M for A.J. but for some reason the Giants (i.e. Colletti) offered $2.25M while Pierzynski asked for $3.5M and won because the Giants were off by that  much.  That's how the arbitration system works, it doesn't matter how outlandish the players offer is, but hinges on whether the team's offer is fair or not.  If it is not fair, the outlandish wins, but if it is fair or over-priced, the team "win" but basically the players' salary in general can never go down in arbitration, but can go really up.  Stupid system, whoever created that system should be the Baseball Hall of Shame.

How Much for the Lincecum In the Window

So Roger is totally right, Howard's award makes my guess wholely not in the ballpark.  And Lincecum is comparable, both are doing things that younger players don't do, though Howard's is historic versus Lincecum's "merely" doing things that are rarely done.

To get an idea of the ratio from hitter to pitcher, luckily last year the two top got contracts, A-Rod and Johan Santana.  A-Rod got $27.5M per year whereas Johan got $22.9M, which is roughly 83%.  With Howard getting $10M, that would put Lincecum at $8.3M to start, under the assumption that the contract would begin with his first year in arbitration, which I assume would be next off-season when he should be a Super-2 eligible player, leaving four years of arbitration control by the Giants.

Then you got the salary inflation of 10% that has ruled the market since the last market crash, which from a base of $8.3M would lead to a four year contract totalling $38.5M.   So Lincecum's agents are probably looking at a contract in the $35-40M range to cover those 4 years under the above assumptions.  

However, those are assumptions that Lincecum's agents will be using, and one could argue that a young pitcher like Lincecum is more risky than a pitcher with proven durability like Santana, both in terms of injury and performance.  I think around 20% is probably a fair enough discount to account for that risk, dropping the contract to the $28-32M range, or about $30M.

There is also still the matter of 2009, when he is still under Giants control, so I could see the Giants offering to shift some of the dollars forward, so that he gets more money in 2009 than later, but still offer the same total amount, as there is still value in that and he normally would be getting maybe $750K for 2009 anyway, not that much compared to the total value of the contract.  At least, that is the way I would approach it if I were the Giants.

Super Lincecum?

Per Roger's comment about going year to year, I think that was more a negotiating ploy to buy more time than their thinking that Lincecum was Superman and injury free.  I think Lincecum's agents are aware of the risk of injury to young pitchers.  I think what they were doing was stalling  to get one full season under Lincecum's belt to boost their case for a larger contract. 

Based on what Lincecum did overall in 2007, the Giants could and probably did argue that a contract similar to Cain and Lowry would be the proper starting point.  The best way for the agents to put the kibosh on any talks would be to say "NO" to any talk of long-term contract and make it clear to the Giants to not to bother to negotiate.  They were probably afraid the Giants will throw some big numbers Lincecum's way and he would not be able to resist.

But as I noted in various posts (and analyzed in one), Lincecum was sub-3 ERA (2.96 ERA to be exact) after his brief bout with pitching poorly in 2007.  He obviously would be paid a heck of a lot more if he had a sub-3 ERA to offer than the 4.00 ERA that he had in 2007.   So their plan was probably to roll the dice on 2008, thinking that he could reduplicate what he did in the latter part of 2007 plus stay injury free, never thinking that he could put together a Cy Young type of year. 

That would explain the sudden turn-around in attitude on the part of Lincecum's agents regarding the long-term contract.  If they really thought that he would be injury-free, then why not go into arbitration each year, as you either end up with a fair contract or an outrageous contract, it is a no-lose situation for a player (which explains why some teams try to avoid arbitration at all costs, like the Giants have done since Sabean took over as GM).  Instead, they basically opened up immediately about their availability for negotiating a long-term contract. 

Thus, I think they planned this, so that Lincecum could have a great season and put himself in line for a great contract based on that great season and not base on his mixed results in his first season, as he was learning to pitch in the majors.   And it worked beyond their wildest dreams.  Plus Howard's arbitration win also brought them untold millions as well. 

And just thinking about it, for 2008, they were risking maybe $10M by waiting but now they are risking about $30M should they keep to their stance of going year by year.   Not that $10M is not a huge sum, but it is similar to Lincecum giving up on six figures the year before with the Indians, before getting $2M from the Giants.   He probably looked at the big picture:  even before the Howard decision and the Cy Young, he probably would have been looking at least $20M if he had a year like he did in the latter half of 2007.  So they were risking $10M in hopes of landing $20M after 2008.  

With his $2M bonus, Lincecum, while not set for life, could take the gamble on pitching well and injury free in 2008.   And that is what they bet on, 2008, not on every year, the way I see it.  And obviously, they won the jackpot and now has to reel it in and get a nice big contract from the Giants.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BP 2008 Free Agent Bargain Hunting

If there's one thing I like to do, it would be bargain hunting. The Giants are probably doing similarly as while they have a lot of money available, they have too many holes to fill, so they will need to be economical if they want to maximize spending. Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan wrote an article going over free agents that he thinks would be undervalued in one way or another. I thought I would cover some here, with a Giants twist:

  • Bobby Abreu: Like we need another OF. Giants should pass.
  • Derek Lowe: El Lefty Malo has been making multiple pitches for the Giants to sign him (latest here). As I noted on his site, I would rather improve the bullpen so that Lincecum and Cain win the games they should have won instead of having the bullpen lose them, than get a starter and improve the #5 starting spot. I like Lowe as a starter, if we could get him, the relievers and a hitter then I would be OK with it, but economics says that the Giants realistically can only get a hitter and either two relievers or one starter. I would rather have two relievers.
  • Kerry Wood: Speaking of relievers, I would love him but he probably wants to close, so he probably wouldn't want to come here. And with his stats, I don't see why another team won't sign him as closer. But if he's still available after New Year's, maybe he'll be amenable to being our righty set-up man.
  • Randy Johnson: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
  • Juan Cruz: This article makes him sound like ROOGY; if so, pass, we need a righty set-up reliever instead.
  • Mike Mussina: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs.
  • Jason Giambi: He really should be a DH, pass.
  • John Smoltz: Nice stats, would improve our #5, but unless he's taking very little money, like $1-2M per year, then I would rather pass and take care of other needs. Or if he's willing to be our righty set-up reliever for the going market price for one of those.
  • Cesar Izturis: Sounds like a great defensive SS and his bat couldn't have been worse than what we had last season, probably an upgrade over the poor hitting Bocock and Vizquel showed much of the season, even as poorly as Izturis hits. And I would assume that he would not make that much money, in the $3-5M range, and Sabean loves good defense.
  • Russell Branyan: Lots of Giants fans like him and he's free again and could play 3B for us. I would rather play Sandoval there mostly full-time and give some of our prospects starting time at 1B, but Branyan could be a nice proven pickup, though I'm not sure how he would fit in, as both Ishikawa and Bowker are also lefties and Sandoval switch-hits, so the only combo that would work is Branyan at 3B, Ishi/Bow at 1B, and Sandoval at C, and that's against RHP. Molina would not be happy losing a lot of starts that way, so this combo would used not very often. More likely would be Branyan at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against RHP, maybe Frandsen at 3B and Sandoval at 1B against LHP. Basically it's Branyan vs. Ish/Bow. I think I would rather see what they can do, particularly Ishikawa, but the Giants are looking for experience. However, given Sabean's statements, I don't see the Giants getting him, he is not really a big acquisition, very complementary, won't be that big a boost to the lineup necessarily.
Giants Thoughts

First, I'll note again that I would rather play the hand we are dealt with than add free agents. But the Giants have to sell tickets so they need to get a few free agents, one to "prove" to ticket buyers that they are serious about winning, two to hopefully win enough to be respectable in the division, which they were not that far from in 2008. If Roberts would have went on the DL at the start of the season, the Giants probably wouldn't have lost those 6 games he started and produced very little. That would have put them more around 74-75 win level in 2008, which is not that far from .500 or 81 wins.

Out of this group of free agents, the one who sticks out as attractive to the Giants is Cesar Izturis. Unfortunately, the best comparison is Neifi Perez, but if we can get him at a cheap enough contract, a la what we've been paying Vizquel, I think it could work out. His overall career stats have been hurt by playing in LA for home, .652 OPS away vs. .606 OPS at home, and he has hit .663 OPS in 157 PA at AT&T Park. Giants SS collectively hit .228/.295/.281/.576, so he could be a huge improvement offensively, as poorly as he has hit during his career. And the article notes his +21 Plus/Minus rating for 2008, which is great fielding in that rating system. He got $2.85M last year from the Cards and $3-4M in 2006-2007. That would not be too bad and he would still improve the offense.

Two others I like but doubt we would get are Kerry Wood and John Smoltz. I assume they will get better contracts and roles with other teams. But if not, they could be very interesting additions for a good price (assuming it goes down with the lack of demand), Wood as set-up, Smoltz either as setup or possibly even starter. There is risk with both that they could come up lame at some point during their contract, but when they are healthy, they are lights out.

Benefit of Lights Out Relievers

And that's what we need, lights out relievers. People forget already, but the Giants bullpen was actually pretty good early on. Valdez and Taschner were shutting things down then handing off to Wilson, and the Giants outside of the losses that Dave Roberts gave us by trying to play with his injury were around .500. Then Valdez was lost for what turned out to be the season, which pushed Walker into that role, and things went downhill from there, plus along the way Taschner wasn't effective anymore either, perhaps he was pushed into a role where he couldn't succeed in. That's when the team started going downhill in terms of losing, helped by the loss of Durham from the offense. Then when we got Romo and Hinshaw going well for us at the end, plus some offense back, we played .500 ball again.

Those are reasons why I think the Giants are not that far away from playing .500 ball. A season is not static, a one snapshot captures all type of phenomenon, you have to look at the parts and see what's there and why they were successful in parts and not successful in other parts, and see which represent the team going forward, the successful or the unsuccessful parts. What I see is a team capable of .500 as is.

.500 Team

Here is what I see for the Giants in 2009 right now:

Starting Rotation: Lincecum should continue to do well, his 2009 was foretold by his 2008 after he adjusted to the league. It should only get better, as scary a proposition that sounds for opposing batters. Cain had his first season where he actually pitched well overall on the road, showing progress, development, and maturity. With a stronger bullpen, the wins he had but lost should boost his W/L and get Giants fans off his back about him being a "loser"; he's no loser, he's a gamer.

Next, we have Zito and Sanchez combine to be the 3/4 starters. Zito showed great improvement late in the season, showing that his fastball was back to early career velocity when he was most successful, plus he was striking out batters in a volume that he hadn't done in 4-5 seasons, again, back early in his career. However, even if he falters, he has pitched about that of a #4 starter most of this time as a Giant. Sanchez, meanwhile, pitched like a top of rotation starter for most of 2008 before horrible starts ruined his season. He and Zito might falter, but I expect one or the other to be able to pitch like a #3 or better while the other one would be a #4 starter for 2009.

People worry about the #5 starter, and if we were trying to win the division, that would be a worry, but most teams have a crappy #5 anyway, so whether Lowry, Misch, Pucetas or whoever ends up there, no matter how badly he pitches, it would be no worse than other team's #5. And our #5 starter problems should be over in 2010 when either Bumgarner or Alderson or both join the rotation.

Bullpen: We now have a core group of Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, and Hinshaw. Wilson is the closer and did very well when put into save situations and very NOT well when put into non-save situations, so the simple solution is to not use him in non-save situations much. Affeldt and Romo both have closer-like characteristics, so set-up should be good, plus Hinshaw was pretty good pitching in against both LHP and RHP. Affeldt probably anchors the 8th while Romo and Hinshaw got the 7th covered, plus contribute regularly to 8th.

If the Giants are able to obtain a vet righty reliever to be the set-up guy, even better. An improved bullpen could add up to 10 wins to Lincecum and Cain together. Lincecum lost 5 wins himself in 2008 and I would think that Cain had lost at least that many. That right there would bring us to over .500 if nothing else is changed.

Offense: Biggest question mark on the team now, which is not a surprise to any Giants fan, it's like saying the sky is blue and moon circles the Earth. As much crap that Rowand took from fans, his OPS+ was 94, not worth $12M but an average CF gets around $9-10M today anyway, so he wasn't that big a drag on the offense overall. His problem was hitting great in April/May then hitting crappy the rest of the season. You don't lose hitting ability suddenly like that unless you are injured, so I think if he's healthy in 2009, you will see great stuff. Ay, matey, dar be the catch: he's often injured.

But Molina was good, as well as Lewis, Winn, and Sandoval. And I would expect Schierholtz to do well if he was given the chance in 2009. Frandsen and Burriss both look like they can hit in the majors as well, their strikeout rate is very good thus far in the majors, small samples, but still they are doing what they were doing in the minors, so that's a good sign. Velez, as well, showed some sign of life in his bat late in the year as well, and his strikeout rate was good too, though not as good as Frandsen or Burriss. So we should be set for middle infielders for 2009 as well, barring any huge setbacks for the trio, plus the Giants are looking to add a SS it seems, which should solidify that even further.

It is the corner infield where the last question mark is, whichever one that Sandoval isn't playing. Again, we all know that. We just don't know what Sabean is going to do about it, if anything. Just because you plan on filling a position does not mean that you do that no matter what, sometimes you have to change your plans to fit reality. I think the Giants should just go with Ishikawa and see what happens, then give others a chance if he falters. 2009 should be for learning stuff like that with prospects we already have and not for spending big money on free agents.

Yet, even with all the questions marks, the Giants were able to win at a .500 rate for much of the season. The key, obviously, is to keep it going throughout the season and end up closer to .500 than in 2008. I think that relief was an area of great leverage where an upgrade there would pay larger dividends than anywhere else on the roster. As much as I would like to see the Giants get another hitter, I'm not convinced that we should spend big money on another hitter, I don't see us getting the value for the money given our needs, we should save the money to get this hitter next off-season once it is clearer what we have and don't have in order to be contenders in 2010.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Giants Sign Affleldt: 2 years, $8M

The Giants have announced the signing of lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt, 2 years, $8M. Reports on this at sfgiants.com, Extra Baggs, The Splash (Chron), and SF Chronicle (Schulman).

As Sabean usually does when he has money, he goes out and get the best or one of the best free agents available. That doesn't always work (Benitez for example) but we knew those negatives the moment we got him, whereas from what I've been reading, there is hardly a negative to be found on Affeldt. From what I read among the various reports, Affeldt was considered one of the better free agents to pursue this off-season, one of the two best lefties (Damaso Marte was the other, re-signed by the Yankees), and Fangraphs' Dave Cameron wrote a post called, "Free Agent Bargain: Jeremy Affeldt," arguing that perhaps he was the best available reliever withou consideration for the money he would get, which would make him an even better bargain. And, of course, there was the post I just posted this morning reporting another site's determination that Affeldt was the best choice among the relievers when not pursuing a closer and wanting to avoid giving up your draft pick.

Dave Cameron had this to note about Affeldt:
  • "one of the more underrated pitchers in the game..."
  • "in 2008, he took a pretty big step forward. His average velocity went from 92.3 MPH a year ago to 94.6 MPH, and his CB saw a similar improvement (going from 76.9 to 79.1). Adding several ticks to both pitches moves him into the power pitcher category, and it showed in his results."
  • "His swinging strike rate (data from statcorner.com) jumped from 7.6% last year to 10.8% this year, putting him in the company of guys like Grant Balfour, Joakim Soria, and Kerry Wood." That improved his strikeout rate to 9.19 K/9 and helped reduce his walk rate to 2.87 BB/9, both very good.
  • "In a lot of cases, a pitcher will add velocity by switching to a four seam fastball and pitching up in the zone, but that’s not the case here - Affeldt continued to pitch down in the zone, posting a career high 54.4% GB%." That's something I hadn't seen about Affeldt yet, that despite being a power pitcher, he also got a lot of groundballs. That is very similar to what Lincecum does, strikeout a lot as well as get a lot of groundballs. That high GB% leads to a low FB% which leads to fewer HR given up, even though his HR/FB was high in 2008 (partially due to playing in Cincinnati).
  • Summary: "Based on 2008, Affeldt has shown an entirely new skillset as compared to his major league career, adding a couple of ticks to both his fastball and curve, which have transformed him into one of the game’s best left-handed relievers. Because his curve is a legitimate second pitch, he shows almost no platoon split, and is equally effective against both LHB and RHBs. His stuff is clearly closer-worthy, and while he has no experience as the 9th inning guy, some smart team would be wise to give him a two or three year contract for setup man money and watch him blossom into one of the game’s best relief aces."
  • "There’s a good case to be made that Jeremy Affeldt is the best reliever available this winter, while most of baseball has no idea who he is."
Giants Thoughts

Well, I quoted most of his article, but there was a lot of good stuff there about him. The more I hear about him, the more I like him. I remember him when he was with KC, really up and down, and he was on my radar, but I just didn't have time to analyze all the relievers in detail. So I'm glad other sites did.

Clearly he matured and developed the past couple of seasons and we have him on a relatively economic 2 year, $8M contract, for his age 30 and 31 seasons. That is pretty good considering he's on an uptrend, he's reaching his peak years, and that fall off in performance don't normally happen until ages 33-34

So now the bullpen is Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo plus, in the mix, Jack Taschner, Alex Hinshaw, Billy Sadler, Osirus Matos, and, if he is back from injury, Merkin Valdez. And I suppose Yabu too. That's not too bad overall, that was a swift and smart move by Sabean to land Affeldt so quickly. I'm looking forward to 2009!

In Search of: A Good Reliever

I loved that series, "In Search of ...", that Leonard Nimoy hosted in the 70's and 80's before the Star Trek franchise revived and made him enough money to avoid jobs like that again. I wonder why that hasn't been updated for the new millenium, would have thought that would be a natural now that psychics have their own TV shows now.

Today, I'm addressing the reliever acquisition that Sabean said they would like to address this off-season. A popular blogger, Aaron Gleeman, loves the Twins and parlayed that into a writing job, on and off, in the media, and he wrote on the relievers available. Apparently, the Twins are also in the same situation as the Giants, looking to boost their bullpen, actually worse, because we at least have Hinshaw and Romo, two good possibilities for 2009 whereas they look like they are screwed because Neshek is now undergoing TJS (not sure why he held off doing that), and both are not looking to spend big. His post (here) has a lot of nice analysis on the various relievers available. His Best of List, which I think is in order of preference:
  • Jeremy Affeldt: one of two lefties (Fuentes the other) who are good enough to be reliable setup man rather than LOOGY and he's only 29, so the contract should just be covering his best years. He thinks 3 years, $9M would do it, but I recall Justin Speier getting $12M over 3 years from the Angels a couple of years ago and salaries have continued to rise since then and was 33 for his first season with Angels. Then again, he had put together two great seasons leading up to free agency, so that probably helped him a lot, though according to FIP, he had good, not great, seasons, a worse two seasons than Affeldt did, based on FIP. But his K/BB were great (3.73 and 2.62) both seasons, whereas Affeldt was only good in 2008 (1.39 and 3.20) and he wasn't that good before. However, one could credit that to him still thinking he's a starter and just getting used to relieving, Tim Worrell said when he was a Giant that it took him a while to give up the dream to be a starter, and he only did well once he embraced it. Perhaps Affeldt finally embraced it in 2008 and finally let it go, which would explain his boost in K/9 to the excellent rate of 9.2. Sabean should definitely kick his tires.
  • Brandon Lyon: Also 29, he has had closer experience, doing well in stretches but not over a full season. He has had solid, relatively consistent FIPs the past three seasons. However, as I've been talking about for a while now, you want a pitcher who can strikeout guys in the bullpen to maximize your team's chances in the playoffs, and he is OK, nothing like Affeldt's 9.2, and only OK in 2008, at 6.7, but under 6 for the most part before. Really nice K/BB in 2008 of 3.38 but that is mainly due to his very low BB/9 in 2008. Signing him is betting that his K/9 stays high and his BB/9 stays low. Gleeman says offer 2 years for $5M. I'm thinking pass for the Giants.
  • Eric Gagne: Besides the fact that he appears to be a steroids user and hasn't been very effective since that come out, he is a former hated D-ger. Then again, I lived to see Orel Hershiser not only join the Giants but pitch effectively and was mentioned as a possible candidate for the manager's job before Dusty got the job (another hated D-ger), so perhaps the world won't end should we sign him. Perhaps. According to Gleeman, he pitched very nicely for a brief patch after July 1st in 2008, but not so well after his trade to Boston. Still, only a 3.52 ERA, 23 IP, 17 hits, 17 K vs. 6 BB (6.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9; career 10.0 and 3.2). And it is possible that this was just a fluke, reliever data is always skewed by small sample problems that exist at the seasonal level. Gleeman says one year for $3M plus incentives. I say the Giants should pass, too much risk involved, I would much rather see Affeldt, who is younger and is on an upswing. In addition, Sabean has been looking long term and Gagne is not a long-term solution.
  • Will Ohman: 31 year old lefty, who has been a LOOGY his whole career, but, according to Gleeman, capable of doing more because right-handed hitters haven't hit him well either. Strikes out a lot during this career but slipping the past couple of years, as well as his velocity. Still, very good 8.1 K/9 even with slippage, and that could be because he was working on reducing his walks, as he got it under 4.0 in 2007 for the first time, then all the way down to 3.4 in 2008 (still, 3.0 is the level you want it under to be considered good). His K/BB jumped to 2.41 in 2008, after being basically 2.0 during his career. He also reduced his HR/9 and has kept his HR/FB% way under the 10% mean pitchers are suppose to regress to, the past three seasons (could be reliever small sampling on a yearly basis, but three years in a row? Not sure what that means conclusively but looks very nice if he can actually not regress). In addition, his FIP was a stellar 3.17 in 2008 vs. his still good 3.68 ERA. Gleeman says offer two years for $3M. I think that he would be an OK risk to go to $3M per year if necessary, he strikes out a lot of batters and actually was hurt by the Braves homepark in 2008, plus his ERA was hurt by a bad second half where he actually probably pitched better, 19 K in 19.2 IP, only 5 BB, 22 hits, which is OK with a reduced walk rate vs. 34 K in 39 IP, 17 BB, 29 hits, better WHIP but only due to flukey BABIP.
  • Others: he listed other names, like Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, Al Reyes, Chad Cordero, Tom Gordon, and Akinori Otsuka, all former closers coming off injuries but could be good at the right low price. Plus Doug Brocail, David Weathers, and Rudy Seanez, all around 40 and solid the past 2-3 years. He also thinks Russ Springer, Bob Howry, and Juan Cruz move to the top of his list if they are not offered arbitration and thus not cost a draft pick since they are Type A free agents. He also said Brandon Donnelly, Kyle Farnsworth and Guillermo Mota could be OK if cheap enough, as they come off poor seasons, Donnelly due to TJS. I think age and injury are enough red flags to not pursue any of them. Perhaps Cordero because he's still very young, but the Giants should probably avoid this group and probably will.
Giants Thoughts

Pretty slim pickings, though relievers in their late 30's can still be very effective. I'm thinking the Giants are looking more younger than older. Jeremy Affeldt looks like the prize among relievers this off-season and I would be OK with Will Ohman as well. Both are lefties, so that would overload our bullpen as Hinshaw and Taschner are also lefties.

However, Taschner's name was prominently featured in trade talks last season, so perhaps there is a lot of team interest in him, which would explain why he was not let go in the purge where the Giants released Tyler Walker, Brad Hennessey, and Kevin Correia, among others, all relievers and for a relatively cheap price too, all roughly $1-2M.

I still think they are going to regret the Correia decision, I think he can be effective going forward, as his PQS was pretty good, suggesting that he can do well as either a starter, reliever, or swinging between both. I'm still not sure why they didn't keep him around to relieve, unless they think that he would be too much of a pain in the clubhouse if he ended up relieving.

I also like Cordero, though obviously his injury is a huge risk. Perhaps with an incentive laden contract it would work, as his ERA has always been great. The only and huge problem is that he has been a very good closer before, thus he is probably looking for a situation where he could become the closer again and get very good money likewise. I think we can over pay a little but no more than 2 years plus option, even though he's only 27 for 2009.

Still, a torn labrum is what did in Robb Nen's career, so I would not pursue him that hard nor for so much nor for that many years. Incentives are the best way to get him and given he's probably looking to close, probably don't even bother negotiating much with his agent until the end of the year, when, if he's still on the market, he'll be desperate enough to set up relieve for us.

Otherwise, the pickings look slim in the free agent market, the Giants would probably have to knock on the door of a team who is clearing out expensive relievers and willing to take salary relief and a minor prospect to give up the guy, if the Giants expect to fill this bullpen need this off-season. Also, perhaps someone will be let go in the arbitration purge that happens in December when teams fish or cut bait with their arbitration-eligible players (Giants purged early which is a big favor to the players, hope they appreciate that freedom; probably not, but just saying in the long run it was better for them to be free now than when everyone else is released in December).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Media Idiocy: because his reasons were wrong, arbitrary, and not logical

The Merc in their morning buzz (no link as they literally just now require viewers to register but for some reason my account's password is not working; I had read the article earlier with no problem then suddenly, bam!, need to log in later) noted that "Frankly, we don't understand the anger about something that didn't affect the outcome," when referring to Chris DeLuca leaving off Tim Lincecum off his Cy Young ballot.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

It's like this: his reasons were wrong, arbitrary, and not logical. I went through much of this in my comments on the post about Lincecum's Cy Young Award, and despite the writer being relatively young and thus should know better, he gives Webb first because he has 22 wins, Lidge second because he didn't blow one save, and Santana because, well, he pitches in NY and did well there.

Don't even get me into how 22 wins is not a valid SOLE determinant of how well a pitcher pitches today, even I knew when I was teenaged and pimply almost 40 years ago that wins were not always the best determination of who pitched the best that season! How out dated is this concept?

By every metric known today to be better indicators of how good a pitcher is, Lincecum and Santana were 1/2 in almost every one. Webb did not beat out either in anything except for wins. And as I noted in the comments, the only reason Webb has 22 wins and Lincecum only 18 is because his bullpen blew one win for him, the Giants blew five wins, which means Webb got this vote because his bullpen was better than Lincecum's. How is that related to how Webb is better than Lincecum?

And rewarding a relief pitcher for not blowing one save would be like giving a pitcher the Cy Young for throwing a no-hitter that season. Hello, it was a fluke and random, there was not any particular extraordinary skill involved, beyond what it takes to save 41 games, which numerous other closers did, this should not be such an amazing event to people! If there was that strong a skill involved, that is, blowing one save versus blowing none, then one would think it would happen more often with the best closers, not someone like Lidge who has been a headcase forever.

Or maybe Eckersley wasn't that good in 1990 when he only walked 4 and had a 0.61 ERA, but still blew 2 saves while saving 48, Lidge was so much better with his 1.95 ERA 35 walks in 69.3 IP (4.5 BB/9!!!) and flukey 2 HR in 69.3 IP but, wow, look at that, 41 saves in 41 opportunities! Looking at his stats, he did not pitch that much different in 2008 as he did in 2007, the only difference being the 7 HR reduction, which as readers here know, is a fluke, as HR is related to the flyballs he gives up and most pitchers regress to 10% HR/FB. So maybe we should retroactively give him Cy Young votes in 2007 too.

And, boo hoo, Santana has to pitch in NY and survive that pressure. If that is such a problem, then start up an Ed Whitson Award and give it to the New York pitcher who did the best surviving of the city that doesn't sleep. Don't give him a vote for Cy Young just because of that though.

Now, if he went through the litany of all the things Santana actually accomplished and argued that Santana did better than Lincecum, I could accept that. But to give him the vote because he survived the crushing pressure of pitching in NY? PLEASE!!!

To top it off, the Buzz then points out the AL Cy Young as more irritating, with Halladay getting votes over Cliff Lee. I'll make it easy for the Buzz: read the stats you put in the newspaper! Halladay had very similar stats to Lee, plus the Buzz included stats where Halladay outdid Lee. Lee only had the fluke that his team scored more runs for him when he pitched, allowing him to lose less for the Indians than Halladay lost for the Blue Jays.

I would agree that the Dale Sveum vote was irritating too, but, playing devils advocate, it was still only a third place vote. Who were deserving in the NL anyway? Can't vote for the guy who was fired and replaced by Sveum. Torre was given a ton of big name free agent signings and it still took the blockbuster trade for Manny to squeek past the .500 D-backs. Pass. LaRussa? They were expected to be contenders and barely registered in their division. Jerry Manuel? With all the talent and free agent signings, the Mets were expected to do well, that's why his predecessor was fired. Piniella? I suppose, but again, with all the talent and free agent signings and big trades, did he really do THAT well? I would give Charlie Manuel and maybe Piniella as deserving votes. The rest, as noted, did not have a great amount of positives to get a vote, frankly.

Sveum was put into a situation of great pressure to make the playoffs. The Brewers had lost 11 of 14 when he took over, in serious trouble of not making the playoffs when they went all in and acquired CC Sabathia, and 7-5 in that context is pretty good. So yeah, Sveum getting a third place vote is irritating, but really, it's a third place vote among a bunch of non-deserving candidates as well, it was more a case of "you have three votes, you have to vote for somebody as third".

Still: Idiotic

However, in DeLuca's case, he passed on Lincecum not one, not two, but with all three votes. While people can make arguments for why one or another might get the vote above Lincecum, to put all three above seems, well, idiotic.

And what is more galling is that he was a big Giants fan growing up. You would think that he would have given more thought to his vote, more consideration to Lincecum, because of his history. Perhaps, in an attempt to be objective and fair, he purposefully did not examine Lincecum to such depth as a fan might do. However, the best he could do was outdated and thus wrong, arbitrary and random, and not logical or fair. And THAT is why he is getting scorn and anger, at least from these quarters.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lincecum's Agent Open to Long-Term Contract!

Andy Baggarly does it again with a big scoop!

He writes that Lincecum's agent is open to long term contract discussion, the opposite of the hard-line stance taken earlier in the 2008 of negotiating a new contract each year:
A day after Tim Lincecum became the second Cy Young Award winner in Giants history, the agent for the young right-hander said he would be open to discussing a multiyear contract with club officials.

"I never draw a line in the sand," said agent Rick Thurman, softening an earlier stance that Lincecum would proceed on one-year contracts through his arbitration years.

"If it's something they're interested in pursuing, an appropriate proposal, it's something we'll consider. And if not, that's great, too."

Thurman informally touched base with club officials at last week's general managers meetings, and Giants player-personnel director Bobby Evans said the door would remain open for future conversations.

"Giants fans know Tim is an important part of our present and future," Evans said. "In light of the Cy Young Award, it's clearly a significant accomplishment. What that means in terms of the contract, I couldn't tell you."

That is even better news than Lincecum winning the Cy Young!  I wonder if the Cy Young win made them re-think that situation.  Particularly in that now that the bar has been set high, they think they can get a bigger contract than most arbitration eligible players can normally get, so it would be a huge risk to go year by year, may as well guarantee a big pot of money now.  Cain got a $9M contract, so Lincecum is probably looking at anywhere from $18-25M, I would think, hopefully with options going into his free agent years and probably with bonuses for any future awards, so he can get another, say, sports car, as a reward for the money earned.

Or even better, hopefully this means that Lincecum wants to stay here long-term, beyond his arbitration years.  I suppose that the hard line could have been a reaction to the Lincecum for Rios rumors that the Blue Jays spread (is Ricciardo a loose cannon or what?  I still can't believe he denigrated Adam Dunn live on radio!) last off-season.  But obviously there is a lot of love flowing lately.  And Lincecum appears to be enjoying being a Giant.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Your 2009 Giants: Big 6 Prospects

I am selecting, in honor of the Big 6 himself, Christy Mathewson, the top 6 prospects of the Giants farm system, in my estimation.  I would rather focus on the ones who are most likely to do significant damage for us up at the major league level at some point in the future, with some plus factor for doing it sooner than later. 

I normally don't do this that early, I usually do this in spring, but there is a poll going on at MCC and I had most of this written already, was basically stuck on the last pick, as I'll get into below, so I thought may as well do it now.

As far as methodology goes, I don't really care to predict the players most likely to contribute this particular season, as that usually include players who make a utility contribution; most teams do not get a significant contributor (like a new starter) from the minor leagues each season, let alone 6, 10, or 11 of them.

In years past, it would have been hard to fill out the list without people who don't really deserve to be on the list.  There would usually be a number of them who was a huge question mark on what type of contribution they will make at the major league level ever.  And that is not a knock on the Giants farm system in the past, per se, the general rule of thumb is that the farm system at any time has four players who will make a mark in the majors in their career, 2 starters, 2 utility/relievers, but the Giants were even having problems with even 2-3 who look like sure things at times.  

But 2009 is different, we have a lot of players.  And that's true even though players like Schierholtz, Sandoval, Burriss, and Velez are no longer eligible, even though none are currently starters (though Sandoval and Burriss are slotted for spots, much like Wilson was slotted for the closer spot for 2007 and did poorly enough to get sent back to the minors, let alone make the bullpen).

Here are the players I think would normally be all deserving of making the list this season if it were almost any previous season:
  • Ehire Adrianza
  • Tim Alderson
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Wendell Fairley
  • Conor Gillaspie
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • Julio Izturis
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Joe Martinez
  • Nick Noonan
  • Kevin Pucetas
  • Buster Posey
  • Rafael Rodriguez
  • Ryan Rohlinger
  • Sergio Romo
  • Hector Sanchez
  • Henry Sosa
  • Angel Villalona
That is quite a long list of prospects, we are starting to built up a lot of depth in the system and that will impact the majors over the next 2-4 seasons.   The Giants were able to accomplish this because it had a lot of high picks in 2007 to boost this up, and made a number of astute selections in 2008, as if they had high picks, in selecting Gillaspie, Kieschnick, and Crawford, players who at some point were expected to fall in the first round, some early in the first.

However, it is pretty clear for the most part who the top players are, while there are a number of players who are borderline for the list, which made the selection for the final spot difficult to come to a decision on.

2009 Big 6 Giants Prospect

Here are the Big 6 I've selected for 2009:
  1. Madison Bumgarner:  On top of how stellar he did in 2009, he suffered through 3 horrible starts before returning to his old mechanics and generating a 0.90 ERA the rest of the season.  He led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.  All at age 18, in a league where players average 22 years of age.  I don't see how they don't jump him up two levels to AA and pair him up with Alderson there in Connecticut.  As far as I'm concerned, he's ready for the majors but it won't hurt him much to have another professional season under his belt plus push the start of his career more into when the Giants have rebuilt than while still rebuilding.  For comparision, Jonathan Sanchez when he did so great in Augusta in 2005 when he was 22 years old, rose quickly to the majors in 2006, as he dominated in brief stints in AA and AAA before making the majors for good.  And his stats there was not quite as good as Bumgarner except for strikeouts, Bumgarner was better or equal by most measures:

    Sanchez pitched 125.2 IP with 122 hits, 39 walks and 166 strikeouts in A-ball at age 22 and was brought up to the majors the next season because he was so dominating.

    Bumgarner pitched 141.2 IP with 111 hits, 21 walks and 164 strikeouts in A-ball at age 18. Better H/9, BB/9, K/BB, WHIP, and ERA, plus had a lot less experience. He’s basically ready for the majors in comparison to what Sanchez did in a similar league and level.

  2. Buster Posey:  Buster would probably grab the first spot for almost any team in the majors, I think he is that good.  But Bumgarner was too dominating, much like how Lincecum was dominating when he was briefly in the minors, while Posey is still raw in terms of catching defense, that I had to make him first.  But Buster is definitely a close second, or 1B to Bumgarner's 1A.  

    He did a lot to earn such a high ranking. Winning the Golden Spike award (third in Giants history after Will Clark and Tim Lincecum; nice company indeed), among other awards established that the experts think a lot of him.  In limited play so far, he has not disappointed, hitting everywhere he has played professionally so far, fulfilling the high expectations that he is going to be an excellent hitter in the professional ranks.  The experts say that he won't have the power he showed in college but should hit 15-20 per year, which is good for a catcher.  And while he's a catcher now, he was formerly a shortstop and thus could be like a Craig Biggio, capable of playing multiple up-the-middle positions.  He would be a plus hitter at any up-the-middle position (but not a corner position, though).

    He should be assigned to AA because he did well when he was playing in the Hawaiian Winter League, which Bobby Evans compared to AA level talent, plus he is comparable to Matt Wieters who probably should have been in AA to start this past season.  In addition, the promotion of former catcher Steve Decker as the manager of Connecticut cinches that too, as Pablo Sandoval got his help in San Jose, and he should be coaching Posey full-time on learning the nuances of the catching position.  

    Like most Giants prospects, Posey will probably stay in Connecticut all season, as the Giants seem to like to keep their prospects in one spot in their first full season (unless absolutely forced, in the case of Lincecum) plus he seems to need a lot more experience behind the plate, including calling games, and learning the position.  Also, he would get to know and handle two pitchers who he'll see a lot of in the future, Bumgarner and Alderson.

  3. Angel Villalona:  Here he is, living away from home for the first time for an extended period, living in a land where he cannot communicate very well with the people around the area, only 17 years old for the season (turning 18 late in the season), which is a year younger than any other player in the league, and still hitting above the league average OPS and knocking out 17 homers, good for a tie for 12th in the league overall, plus he got better as the season went on, finally hitting .308/.362/.529/.892 with 5 HR in 104 AB (21 AB/HR; about a 30 HR per year pace) in the last month of the season, and learning a new defensive position at 1B while still taking balls at 3B during practice.   The experts talk has been that he has 30-40 HR potential, so he seems to be fulfilling that at the end of the season.

    Yet, while he was #1 last season in most rankings, he has "fallen" to #3 this season. But that is a function of the other players earning their higher rankings than reflecting poorly on Villalona. While he did disappoint early on, one can credit the newness of the situation for him, both locationally and positionally (playing 1B for first time), and he quickly found his bearing and started doing better. Still, while he did really well for a 17 year old playing against 22 year olds on average, it wasn't like he was dominating them either, at least not until the end of the season (which could have been a function of the better pitchers getting promoted as well) and certainly nothing like what Bumgarner and Posey did.  

    He will probably be promoted to Advanced A San Jose and it sounds like they will play him at 1B again. I was hoping that they at least split his time playing 1B and 3B, because supposedly he's capable of playing both right now, so that he can keep up his skills in game time situations. The good news is that he was already considered a plus defender at 3B prior to the season and perhaps the Giants are hoping to have him learn to be equally good defensively at 1B, so that he could play either position with plus defense, depending on need, once he reached the majors.
     
  4. Tim Alderson:  Only 19 years old, one of the youngest pitchers in the California League, where the average age of a player is 23 years of age, he had the 4th most strikeouts and the best ERA of any pitcher with over 16 starts or over 100 IP.  Normally that would probably rank him higher than 4th, but Bumgarner outdid him, Posey had an incredible season in college, and Villalona could be a monster in the majors and showed a strong hint of that at age 17.

    The caveat on Alderson is that his season was mostly driven by his success at home: 100.0 IP with a FIP of 2.79, .218 AVG, 0.94 WHIP, 1.35 BB/9, 8.55 K/9, and 0.18 HR/9 versus on the road: 49.0 IP with a FIP of 4.49, .266 AVG, 1.33 WHIP, 3.49 BB/9, 5.33 K/9, 0.37 HR/9. Research has shown that San Jose's Municipal Stadium has one of the worse outlier for stadiums in terms of strikeouts in all of the minor leagues, which hitters like John Bowker attested to the poor background for hitters there. This puts him behind Villalona, I believe.

    Still, he had a marvelous season, nonetheless, and will be promoted from San Jose most probably to Connecticut as I don't see the Giants feeling the need to move him up faster since he'll be only 20 for next season plus they need to overlap his prime years with our current players already up in the majors, so that he'll be ready to take over should we need to move or lose anybody, plus have his career start once we are competitors again which would extend the years we can be contenders; this same logic goes for Bumgarner as well, except that he's obviously ready for AA.

    Both will probably just move up one level at a time going forward unless either one pitches like Bumgarner did in 2008 at a higher level. If either of them is that ready, I think the Giants would make the move and trade somebody already in the rotation to bolster the lineup, most likely Sanchez.

  5. Rafael Rodriguez:  Just one phrase says it all, "5 Tools."  Well, that and $2.55M, the largest bonus ever given a Latin American hitter.   He has raw power coming out of his 6' 5", 198 pound 16 year old body.  Above average speed combined with an above average arm makes him the right future right-fielder for AT&T.  Comparisions with Vladimir Guererro and Andres Galarraga have been offered.  

    However, the Achilles Heal for this Adonis is that while he has a lot going for him, the one thing suspect with him is that some scouts are not sold on his hitting mechanics and his overall feel for hitting. That could be the weak link in an otherwise stellar package for a position player. Still, obviously, the Giants scouts think otherwise and hence the big bonus, even bigger than for Villalona and as noted, the largest given a Latin American position player ever.   Five Tools, big bonus, good comparisions, these all put him as the fifth Top prospect for the 2009 Giants.

  6. Travis Ishikawa:  This was truly the hardest one to pick for me.  A lot of players appeared worthy of this spot for one reason or another.  But Ishikawa had a monster year in 2008, an overall MLE season of .252/.331/.458/.789 with 18 HR in 421 AB (23 AB/HR) and 49 BB/88 K, which is pretty good for him.   It was even better in actual production:  .299/.377/.578/.955 with 24 HR in 405 AB (17 AB/HR) and 49 BB/81 K.   Plus, he is known for his defense.  However, he still had a weakness against LHP, hitting only .206/.333/.308/.641 in 107 AB with only 2 HR vs. .332/.394/.674/1.068 in 298 AB with 22 HR (it looks even worse in MLE).

    Still it was a monster year where he struggled greatly in April, but busted out in May and had close to a 1.000 OPS in the minors after April, with 23 HR in 321 AB (14 AB/HR). In addition, once he made the majors, he hit a nice .274/.337/.432/.769 with 3 HR in 95 AB (32 AB/HR or roughly a 20 HR season) and 100 OPS+.

    As noted, I had a hard time choosing this spot.  Ishikawa has had huge ups and downs during his minor league career and still strikes out too much for my tastes.  However, nobody in the minors had a better year out of the remaining prospects I was comparing him against.  His MLE alone was better than what most of the other position prospects did without adjustment downward to MLE in the minors.  

    Among pitchers, while a lot of pitchers did well, none of them were really considered that good a prospect, which for me meant that they really need to show that they have the ability to do well at least in AAA.  The best rated pitcher NOT above Ishikawa is Henry Sosa and he had a so-so season in only Advanced A.   Clayton Tanner is also up there but only did OK in Advanced A.  Waldis Joaquin similarly.  Nick Pereira got up to AAA but didn't do that well there.  Joe Martinez did well in AA, but he couldn't even beat 7.0 K/9 there and didn't make the Baseball America Top 30 last season.

    So Ishikawa not only outdid the rest of the prospects but has the potential to be a 25-30 HR hitter at 1B with great defense and OK to good OBP.  He's horrible against LHP but JT Snow had a long career with a similar offensive contribution plus Ishikawa profiles better as a power hitter, which I think is necessary for a left-hander to hit homers at AT&T.   Plus he made great progress in reducing his strikeouts in 2008, previously he would strike out about a third of the time (<>
Those are the 6 top prospects, in my opinion, for the Giants in 2009.

Congrats to Lincecum!!!

Forgot that elemental phrase in my other post, much like Lincecum suddenly remembering to thank his teammates at the end.  I think the Kangaroo Court will probably fine him for that one when spring training comes.

Again, the media molds public opinion with their lack of knowledge of the situation.  Ann Killion noted, "His rise through the Giant's farm system (13 minor league games, including six for the San Jose Giants) was too quick to allow for tinkering [with his pitching delivery]."  Despite her willingness to opine on the Giants condition, she's too busy to keep up with their top prospects, even when she has the best source for Giants information working in a nearby cubicle in Andy Baggarly.  Madison Bumgarner, who had not even thrown one pitch professionally, had his delivery messed with before the 2008 season started, which resulted in three horrible starts for Augusta before the team allowed him to return to his normal delivery, upon which he simply dominated the league, much like Lincecum dominated when he pitched in the minors.  So, no, 13 games was plenty enough to mess with Lincecum's delivery, the Giants wisely decided not to.

I realize that she was trying to be glib based on what Lincecum talked about during the press conference (very interesting and it was viewable in real time on-line, pretty cool) but still, get the info right, it wasn't like she was in an interview, she wrote this column up, she could have had Baggarly read it for her to make sure nothing is amiss.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tim Lincecum: 2008 Cy Young Winner

As reported in a SFGiants.com e-mail to me, Tim Lincecum has won the 2008 Cy Young Award.  He is the second Giant to receive the award, the first being Mike McCormick.  He is also the first second year player to win the award since both Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen won in 1985 in their respective leagues.   He is just the 12th pitcher to win the award for a sub-.500 team.

He got 23 out of the 32 first place votes and 7 of the second place votes plus one third place vote.    That is a total of 137 points, almost doubling the second place winner, Brandon Webb, who had 73 points.   The fear that Johan Santana might steal the award with his spirited finish was unfounded as he only received 55 points.  

He did this striking out 265 batters, the first time a Giants pitcher has led the league in strikeouts, and he was second in wins and ERA.  In addition, the .339 difference between his winning percentage and the Giant's team percentage is the 7th widest difference in the history of major league baseball for any pitcher with at least 15 wins.  

Monday, November 10, 2008

RE: Chronicle Letters to the Green

Michael Eckstut wrote to the Chron complaining about how Sabean is blind to Giant Holes:
Editor - It seems that Brian Sabean doesn't recognize how poorly the team performed last year and how many needs they must fill to become competitive. He's in a tweaking mode when there are fundamental flaws across every part of the club except at No. 1 starter.

This is a team that lost 90 games, didn't hit 100 home runs and had huge difficulties scoring runs. One bat isn't going to do it - you need at least two, maybe three additional ones, and the middle relief is awful. Putting Matt Cain in an untouchable category is ridiculous. He is a sub .500 pitcher who pitches well enough to look good losing. If he can be traded for one or two bats (Prince Fielder?), do it in a heartbeat!
I was going to respond to the Green but thought there's probably a low probability that it would get printed, they probably get a lot of letters. Plus, I don't like giving personal information when I don't feel that it is necessary.

My Response

It seems that Michael didn't seem to understand that 2008 was a rebuilding year. Yes, there are holes, there are always holes when you are re-building, that's part of the definition. Rushing a rebuild would be implementing the strategy of the previous 4-5 seasons of getting the best available free agent (no matter how mediocre they are). In a rebuild, you only want to add premium players and not feel forced to acquire veteran players to fill spots.

Plus, even if the Giants were to open their checkbook and sign the 2-3 big bats to boost up the team, most probably we'll be lucky to get one of them. And, of course, he says sign big bats without considering what that might mean, a lot of them are strictly OF (or poor 1Bmen), and there's no way we should sign any free agent OF. In addition, it could kill our budget, for example, there's no way Mark Teixiera signs with us without us totally overpaying for him for years because there will be so many teams pursuing him.

Also, he complains about the bullpen but apparently he missed Sabean's annual post-season press conference where he stated that the bullpen needs help and he'll be looking for it among free agents.

Then he ridicules making Matt Cain untouchable. First, as a seller with desperate needs, no sane businessman would say, "Here's one of my most valuable assets, please give me your best offer." The Padres show this lack of business knowledge by having open bidding for Peavy, there was no reason to sell him now, particularly with a deadline of the winter meetings when teams are still contemplating signing CC Sabathia instead; this looks like this will be a repeat of the Fred McGriff trade where they got totally ripped off by the Braves. And look at what happened to the Twins last year with Santana, they ended up with a pretty poor package for arguably the best pitcher in the majors.

Second, he calls Cain a sub-.500 pitcher who pitches well enough to look good losing. Matt Cain has had above average K/9 every full-season he has pitched for us, plus has his K/BB above the 2.0 that is the mark of good starting pitchers. And his ERA has been among the best of the NL each year as well, so it is the team offense that is scoring just short enough for him to lose than the other way around. He should get his facts straight.

Third, even if the Giants were to trade Cain for Fielder (which was always just a media rumor, I've seen nothing to believe it was a real rumor), that would just fill one hole while creating another hole. That's just spinning your wheels in terms of rebuilding plus you take on the risk that the 300 pound Fielder, who has refused the team's request that he keep in shape, implodes on you much like how Jerome Williams did when he couldn't or wouldn't keep his weight down. Excess weight can ruin a career just like that, no matter how good or promising.

Player Evaluation

People still have a hard time discerning the difference between having to sign a player when you have a hole versus deciding whether to keep a prospect or not. There has been very few prospects whom the Giants have traded during the Sabean era who have had good careers, and they are only nice relievers and one good closer, Bob Howry, Scott Linebrink, Keith Foulke, not front-line starters.

Meanwhile, he kept minor league prospects Rich Aurilia, Bill Mueller, Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes, Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum. In all cases, they could have been traded in order to bolster the team at the MLB level to contend for the title but were not.

The only prospects to really register on the regret meter are Francisco Liriano and Jeremy Accardo, and both, while pitching well since, have also missed significant time with injuries. Neither have pitched long enough to bring huge regret to me yet, though I suspect that Accardo eventually will (Liriano is an injury magnet and pitchers who are like that are not going to pitch very long).

The only player traded away who had over a year's worth of MLB experience who should not have been traded away was Joe Nathan. But compared to what we have received in terms of Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt, I would say that Sabean is still comfortably in the plus side of the trade ledger there, even without considering Robb Nen, Livan Hernandez, JT Snow, Kirk Rueter, Ellis Burks, Shawn Estes, Andres Galarraga, David Bell, Sidney Ponson, Randy Winn, Kelvin Pichardo.

Has he been perfect? If he were, he wouldn't be human. But on the whole he has been very good as GM in terms of evaluating talent in terms of acquiring them via the draft or via trades.

People forget that his hands where tied regarding signing free agents because, if you expect to be a contender, you can't go into the season with so-so prospects lined up at a position, you want to man each position with the best you could afford. Unfortunately, the Giants budget was not a bottomless pit like the Yankees where they can afford to eat a $20M contract and not blink, and they had to make compromises, particularly in the latter Bonds years, in terms of signing veteran players to fill positions.

Still, Sabean has not been perfect and thus why I say don't give him Carte Blanche but to give him a couple of years to show that he can still do the GM position proud. I think he did really well for the 2008 season and am looking forward to 2009. I would hope they stick to signing only premium players strategy and mainly let the young players play and making 2009 another re-building year, though with higher expectations. I think they should be close to .500 in 2009 with an good chance of being over .500 if Sanchez and Zito can pitch a whole season like they did for long stretches of 2008.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Giants 2008-9 Free Agent Shopping List and Speculation

See here for a listing of Type A and Type B free agents this winter.  Since the Giants are looking for a middle of lineup bat and  relievers, I thought I would stroll through the shopping aisle and see what looks tempting to me (whereas in yesterday's post, I mainly examined what the Giants might do).  In addition, I will point out other players that might be a good buy for the Giants going forward or players who others think is a good buy and why I think the Giants should pass.
  • Rich Aurilia:  I'll start off easy with what Sabean already said at his first post-season soiree, namely that the Giants are interested in Aurilia but they probably won't sign him later than sooner, depending on how things work out.  Clearly, the Giants need a backup 1B/3B, but paying for Aurilia will be paying for a part-time starter, which we might not need with Pablo Sandoval and possible acquiring a middle-lineup 1B/3B.  But what are the odds of that happening when we aren't trading Cain or Lincecum?  

    So I think what happens is that the Giants will be unsettled at 1B/3B until the end of spring training.  Sandoval will get one of the positions to start at (plus work as C).  Frandsen could end up at 3B if he and Velez hits well and Velez gets 2B (lesser of all evils), leaving Sandoval at 1B.   Then again, if Travis Ishikawa or John Bowker (or even Dan Ortmeier) in combo with Josh Phelps have a great spring, they would claim 1B as a platoon, pushing Sandoval to 3B.  But if most/all of them fail to win a spot, the Giants would want Aurilia as backup starter.  

    Obviously, this can go a lot of ways.  But I think the Giants hope one of the young players take a position, meaning they want to sign Aurilia cheaply, as utility player, not part-time starter (which means more bucks).  Signing later would ensure that but risk him leaving to another team for a clear position/opportunity.  However, something in my gut says that he will wait thing out - most probably because there is not much interest - and he signs with us for about $2M for one year.
  • Pat Burrell:  I would love to have Pat the Bat on the Giants, plus he's a local boy, but he's going to command big bucks and as a LF, he makes a good DH.  He is so poor a defender that the Phillies regularly replaced him in LF or pinch-ran for him late in the game.   That makes sense if he were 40+ but he is not, he's still relatively young.  He was a firstbaseman before so that could also be a position but again, his defense couldn't be that good after so many years away.  Pass on him for the contract he's probably going to get, but if it was just for the player, I would do it.  And, who knows, maybe he'll give us a good enough home discount to give it a shot.
  • Mark Teixiera:  $$$!!! Boras!!!  No Thanks!
  • Orlando Hudson:  I like him as a player but I would rather see how Frandsen and Velez does at 2B, plus Noonan is coming up in a 3-4 years, and as well, Conor Gillaspie might end up there as well.   We have a lot of options and Hudson would prevent us from seeing how they do, plus push them to other positions, and he doesn't solve our biggest need, a middle of lineup hitter.  Pass.
  • Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria:  Like at 2B, I would rather let Burriss get some time here to see if he lasts defensively at SS;  I think his ability to not strike out much despite his inexperience suggests a lot of growth potential as a hitter, particularly if Carney Lansford is able to teach Emmanuel how to hit for more power.  If he is not defensive SS material, then he'll be in the mix for 2B in 2010 with whoever won 2B in 2009, and the Giants could go shopping for a SS next off-season.  The Giants are rumored to be interested in Furcal, but I would rather not, he's injury prone and probably want a longer contract than the 2 year plus option that I would be willing to give.
  • Manny and Dunn:  We have eNNough OF, and I wouldn't trust either one at 1B.  No thanks, though we could use their power.  
  • Hank Blalock:  He does not even hit like Neifi outside of his home park, he would just be an expensive (and long-term) version of Jose Castillo that we had in 2008
  • Casey Blake:  He's old and the Giants really should keep 3B open in case Frandsen or Sandoval need to play there because other players/prospects do well enough to earn the opportunity to start.
  • CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Ben Sheets, Oliver Perez, Derek Lowe:  we have enough strong pitching and I don't want to sign one of these only to have to trade Matt Cain.  No more talk about trading Matt Cain, fans can be idiots sometimes, complain about players with no loyalty to the team and Cain wants to be here long term, he had no childhood team, so he's really attached to our team.  I want him here long term.
  • Relief pitchers:  I think any of the Type A relievers will want too much money, but if Trevor Hoffman is willing to sign up to be Wilson's setup guy for a one year $3-5M contract, I think I can go for that.  Among the Type B relievers, I like Alan Embree for $1-2M, Jeremy Affeldt for 2-3 years at $1-2M, but no one else interests me.  If we can get Scott Eyre back for a small amount, that would be great as well, as he is on neither list and like others, might want to come back, though the Phillies want him back, so he's probably going back to them.  
No Big Ticket Items Signing, Please

Ultimately, I don't want the Giants spending big bucks on any player because he could hamper efforts by the Giants to sign Lincecum and Cain into their free agency years.  They should be our first priorities going forward in terms of contract commitments.   A short 2-3 years commitment is fine, but nothing longer term than that.

I think people are thinking too much about 2009.  We have a number of power hitters prospects who might be able to deliver the big punch for us in 2010, when we are targeting to contend.    Just give them the opportunity to see what they can do, get in a scrum and fight each other, and see what happens.

Hopefully, by next off-season, we will find out if any of them fit the bill, whether (in combination with each other) Lewis, Rowand, Sandoval, Ishikawa, Phelps, Bowker, Rohlinger, or Schierholtz.   If not then hopefully Jonathan Sanchez has had a very good year under his belt, that is, throw a complete season like he did in the first half before the All-Star break, he had a 3.97 ERA overall in 19 starts, 111 IP, only 98 hits though 53 walks, but 115 strikeouts (9.3 K/9; 2.2 K/BB; both of which are very good), 0.8 HR/9, 1.36 WHIP, and hitters were hitting only .237/.326/.370/.696 against him, 41 AB/HR, 10 DOM starts out of 19 (Giants were 7-3 in those DOM games), that's elite level pitching.  That's a top of rotation pitcher and should get us a strong middle-of-lineup hitter, should we need one.  

I would rather keep him, but with Madison Bumgarner and/or Tim Alderson coming up in the 2010-2011 timeframe, and with Lincecum and Cain already in the rotation, if the opportunity should present itself to procure a young power hitter for Sanchez, I think we need to go for it.

But no to the Twins for Delmon Young, I think it's funny that they traded Garza for Young and now want to trade Young for a good young starting pitcher.  Cry me a river, I'd rather keep Sanchez than deal with them again.  Plus we don't need another OF, and a thus far powerless one at that.  Maybe if they give us Young and Brendan Harris, plus a prospect, a huge overpay, otherwise, screw them, let them learn what a big mistake they made.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Good Report on Frandsen Plus Rumors and Speculations

John Sickels, a minor league expert, wrote in his Minor League Ball blog the following about Kevin Frandsen:

Kevin Frandsen, SS, San Francisco Giants: Looks healthy which is the important thing after missing the season due to a torn achilles. Line drive bat, hits to the opposite field, hustles, won't have much home run power. Played shortstop down here and looked fine, can handle second base no problem defensively.
Still, Sickels thinks Kevin is a 2B in full-time play.

Baggarly's Back

Andy Baggarly had a juicy post on Giants rumors and he's not even at the GM meetings.
  • The biggest news, as Andy notes:  Giants have interest in Rafael Furcal.  This makes sense, much like how the acquisiton of Rowand made sense:  add another strong vet to the mix.  In Rowand's case, it allowed Schierholtz to gain another year of experience at AAA, and Lewis backed up Roberts really well, with Schierholtz as the second alternative had the need arise.  In this case, this sets up SS, with Frandsen and Burriss fighting for 2B, and if both do well enough, Frandsen slides to 3B, with Sandoval sticking to 1B.  Also, as Baggarly also notes, he would lead off, allowing us to bat Lewis in the middle (though I was envisioning Burriss in the leadoff spot).  Plus we steal him from the D-gers, though they do have Ivan DeJesus and Chin-Lung Hu in the wings (however, DeJesus looks terrible in AFL according to Sickels and Hu didn't do well in majors last year).

    And this works even if injury prone Furcal - he's 31 next year and has had two straight injury reduced years, particularly in 2008 - continues to be injury prone, as that would allow Burriss and/or Frandsen time at SS. However, this only really works if it is a two year deal with an option, because we cannot be saddled with a gimpy shortstop for big bucks for a long time.  Particularly not into our prime period of 2010-2015 when we should have our best prospects productive and under our control.   Perhaps the option can be tied to playing time in 2009-10, like Vizquel's was.   He took a shorter deal with LA for more money so perhaps he might be willing to do that again.

    If the Giants are already looking this SS route, if Furcal falls through, perhaps they might go after Adam Everett who plays great defense but might give that back offensively. However, that would be an upgrade on last year because the SS position only hit .228/.295/.281/.576 overall. Everett over the past three seasons had OPS of .642, .599, and .601 (career .653, but much done at Houston's hitter's park. Still, he'll be 32 next year and with declines offensively, could continue to decline. Plus, it appears he was injured twice during the season (and missed a lot of time in 2007 as well), so perhaps he's an injury risk today.
  • Other names include Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins, but most probably not happening.
  • Scott Eyre was mentioned, but apparently Eyre loves pitching for the Phillies and his home is close to their spring training complex.  It'll probably come to who offers the bigger bucks again, which is how we lost him to Chicago last time.
  • Bengie Molina rumors appear to be just that, nothing substantial.   I would note here that I saw a headline that Pudge and Veritek will be hot commodities because of a short supply in the catcher's market, so the teams that lose out on them might decide to be more substantial with their offer for Molina in the future.
  • Lastly, Andy speculates that Aaron Rowand could be in the mix in trade talks.  The market for CF is strong as evidenced by the Brewers picking up Mike Cameron's $10M option, and the Yankees and ChiSox are shopping for CF (Rowand being a former ChiSox, and they pursued him strongly before the Giants got him).  According to scouts that Baggarly spoke with, Rowand's defense has fallen so much that Randy Winn was actually better (and most reports I've heard is that he's poor in CF).    Still, any trade would have to have a substantial return and the Giants would need to get another righty hitter to balance things out, particularly if Schierholtz is the new RF.  Plus, he has limited trade protection.
  • Oh, and Baggarly guesses that it's 75-25 that Cain remains a Giant.  I would think it would have to be greater than that, because I don't think any team is going to be willing to shell out that much, I would expect to get much more than what the D-backs got for Haren, and only the Rays, I think, would be in a good enough position to trade off that many young good players for a Cain - yet they don't really need a Cain, they have Kazmir, Shields, Garza, and soon Price.  
Shea Had Something to Say Too

John Shea had a column on the Giants too:
  • Asked if Cain is untouchable, Sabean said, "Yes.  Clubs know that.  That hasn't necessarily discouraged clubs from inquiring or making suggestions of offers.  But we don't see anything out there that gives us a net gain by losing him."
  • So to get offensive help, he will try other ways, including free agency and trades for pitchers not named Cain, Lincecum, or Wilson.  "We have a list of very definitive untouchables for various reasons.  After that, if someone wants to get creative and we could find a way to do something, even if it takes more than one prospect, we're willing to do it."
  • Sabean will be attending the Giants' ownership group meeting in SF tonight.
  • Sabean has been told to conduct business as usual, despite the tumbling economy, with the priority of adding a couple of hitters - a corner infielder and middle infielder to complement Sandoval and Burriss in the infield and of rebuilding the bullpen around Wilson.
  • Sabean noted, "You never know if someone might be interested.  Having said that, we know what the competition's going to be.  Make no mistake.  It's a short list of quote, premium difference-makers.  Very short."
  • Also reports that Furcal's group "indicated the Giants are interested in the shortstop as a leadoff hitter." 
  • Basically Burriss will play either 2B or SS and Sandoval wil play either 1B or 3B.  
  • Sabean has not met many agents but is expected to.  He was seen speaking to Craig Landis (former Giants prospect, FYI) who represents Bobby Howry (also a former Giants prospect).   Sabean appears confident he can redo his bullpen through free agency.
  • He also met with the agent company representing Dunn, Burrell, Hudseon, and CC Sabathia (and here it is affirmed that the Giants are not in the market for front-line starting pitchers).  
  • Sabean also noted that Frandsen has a shot at winning 2B starting job.  He's currently playing SS because Burriss's knee is banged up.
  • Also, they are still hopeful that Lowry will be in the Opening Day rotation (imagine how good we would have been in 2008 with a healthy Lowry manning a rotation spot instead of Correia/Misch/etc.  That could have been at least a 10 game swing as those pitchers went a combined 3-13 in 29 starts;  Lowry going 8-8 instead would but the Giants at 77-85, only 8 games under .500 vs. 18 games under .500).  
  • In addition, Kevin Pucetas could be in competition for the final rotation spot as well, which is surprising but a good surprise.  But still surprising given the word after the season that the team would not rush players as they had in 2008, as Pucetas was only in Advanced A San Jose and, frankly, Tim Alderson outpitched him there.   However, Kevin will be 24 next year and Alderson only 20, so with Bumgarner and Alderson probably only a season or two away from being in the majors, perhaps the Giants felt like they should take a good look at Pucetas now.
Giants Thoughts

I mainly looked here at what the Giants might do commented on that and tried not to put as much of my opinion into what I would do as I am posting tomorrowing a discussion of various free agents and my thoughts on whether we should pursue them or not.  Here, I am mainly an observer who gives opinion on what may or may not be happening.

I guess the main news is that Burriss and Sandoval pretty much owns two spots in the infield but which two depends on who the Giants acquired during the off-season.  And the threshold is high, the Giants are only looking at "premium difference makers".    Plus, as noted before, the Giants are looking to boost the bullpen.  And it appears that the Giants are not pursuing any outfielders, leaving a number of premium difference makers like Manny not part of the mix in the Giants plans. 

Looks like they will pursue Furcal, though how seriously, I don't know, as they shied away from Vlad Guerrero reportedly because of his bad back (though according to a well-respected Bay Area media member, Ted Robinson, a significant factor was because Vlad didn't like Felipe Alou).  He'll be OK with a short contract but not a long one.

And apparently they are eyeing Juan Uribe as a possible replacement for Rich Aurilia, depending on how cheaply they can get him from the ChiSox (which I would put in the category of dumpster-diving; not that there's anything wrong with that).   I am OK with that if he's cheap enough.  It'll be fun for the crowd to yell "Ooo-Ree-Bay" again.  

Pat Burrell, on the other hand, is pretty much dismissed in the above articles, but he used to play 1B like Dunn as well.  However, I doubt that his hometime discount will amount to enough for the Giants to sign him and his defense stinks, and Sabean loves good defensive players.   

Still, you never know what a player might do, because if the Giants are interested in Furcal, they are obviously entertaining thoughts of shelling out another $12-13+ M contract and maybe Burrell doesn't need the biggest contract and accepts one that is good enough, like Carlos Lee did with Houston.  Burrell is a South Bay native and I believe was a Giants fan growing up.  In addition, because his defense leaves a lot to be desired, the Giants might not want to have two subpar defensive player in Burrell and Sandoval at the corner infield spots.  We will see.

I don't think that the Giants will want to pursue Dunn.  I think there is enough interest on the part of other teams to put his price out of range of the Giants.  And he's not going to give any hometown discount to the Giants.

Same thinking on Mark Teixiera.  As much as he fits the Giants ideal 1B - hitter plus great defensively - he is with Boras and he will want one of the largest contracts in history.  I don't think the Giants want to go in that direction.

I am hoping the Giants are limiting contracts to the 2 years plus 3rd year option or at most a 3 years plus 4th year option variety so that the contracts are ending right around when we need to sign Cain and Lincecum to long term deals.  That would make it easier to trade them too.

I'm a bit afraid that the media is mentioning Bumgarner and Alderson in the trade talks and hope that is because Sabean did not explicitly name them and thus the writers are just taking an analytical leap there.  Sabean, as I noted, like to maintain a list put together by our coaches and scouts on, basically, who our keepers are and who we are willing to give up.  I assume both are on the keeper list.

Looks like the #5 spot will be competed for by Lowry, Pucetas, and probably Misch as well, and possibly Correia should he be re-signed (I'm betting that he's going to another team like the Padres instead, though).  

The outfield appear to be set with Lewis, Rowand, and Winn, with the outside possibility that the Giants will float Rowand's name to see what offers he gets.  As I noted before, I hope they keep him, I think he'll be better in 2009 and the team will be sorry to get rid of him if they do.

Given the hot market for catchers in free agency, I think some teams might decide that it would be better to have Bengie Molina than overpay for the two stars on the market, Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Veritek, or, alternatively, he will look better when the two sign with other teams and the remaining bidders are left with no catcher.   However, I think it would take a pretty good offer to get the Giants to trade Molina, so I think he'll be with the team to start the season but could be gone by mid-season when the inevitable injury hits a contending team's catching and they need a catcher and thus might overbid for him.  Plus the Giants by that point should be back far enough that they could give up without shame and start building for the future again at mid-season.  

Lastly, Cain's not going anywhere because it is going to take a huge overbid to get him away from the Giants and that's been true for at least 3 years now, and if a team hasn't been willing to do that before, they are probably not willing to do it today, as he's pitching much as he has, at least at the surface. 

However, as I noted in another post, Cain greatly improved in 2008 because he actually pitched well on the road, whereas previously he only pitched well in SF and poorly on the road.  He should be ready to take off in terms of production as a starting pitcher in 2009, I would bet.

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